Friday, July 31, 2009

Brendan Benson!

Move out of my WAY, Jack White! I don't even care about you and your 8,453 side project bands. I'm sorry Jack White appreciators. I am not in your secret club, and I'm not afraid to say so.

This blog post, however, was meant to be written in a positive tone. I just got sidetracked a little. Brendan Benson is (excuse my language) Jack White's bitch-sideman in The Raconteurs. Maybe it got him more notoriety or notice or something. I hope it did. But he's been playing the understated antihero for a couple years now, and I'm sick of it.

Brendan Benson has crafted some of the past 10 years' best pop songs. I know that sounds like an exaggeration, but I truly believe it. He is that hidden gem that I occasionally forget about, only to crawl back in the end.

His sophomore album, Lapalco, was released in 2002. It is a lost treasure of sorts. Not a bad song in the bunch, the album moves like a shiny red Cadillac on sunny day. "Tiny Spark," "Good to Me," "Pleasure Seeker" - these are all songs that for me are symbolic of the bliss of finishing high school. Upbeat, catchy, sweet sweet power pop. It doesn't get any poppier. I'm totally ok with that. Get me in the right kind of sentimental mood, and the album's one tragic love song, "Metarie," has me in tears almost simultaneously. It's lo-fi and it's gorgeous.

I probably peed in my pants back in 2005 when I heard he was coming out with The Alternative to Love. The album was average at best. A disappointment. Similar to my feelings about the Raconteurs.

But now Brendan is back, and he is BETTER THAN EVER. My Old, Familiar Friend takes me back to Lapalco days. I'll be coming out with a more thorough review for Scene, but in the meantime, can I gush?? This is my ideal album. It's hook-filled and has touches of Motown glory. There is spastic organ (a la my favorite Athens band, Wheels on Fire) and majestic string arrangements. The lyrics are perfect - "I fell in love with you, and out of love with you, and back in love with you - all in the same day."

Benson, you are my prince. Thank you for coming back around.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

iPod Shuffle, Installment 1

Oh, the great adventures of iPod shuffle.

Today, I will document the contents of my shuffling from 4pm on a Thursday afternoon.

"Singing Softly to Me" by Kings of Convenience
from Quiet is the New Loud
  • by their very nature, the Kings are classy
  • that brassy trumpet playing lends this song a jazzy touch and i feel like i'm in a classy cocktail lounge
  • ultimate music to chill out, lemonade and lazy sun probably necessary

"Gender Bombs" by The Stills
from Logic Will Break Your Heart

  • they are from Canada, eh?
  • my dad has said they sound to him like a band from the 80's. shoot, i forget which one.
  • this album is not sonically as clear and well-produced as Oceans Will Rise
  • lately, every band sounds like Coldplay to me

"Do You Love Him" by The Avett Brothers
from Carolina Jubilee

  • i love Seth and Scott, and i long to see their live show again sooooon
  • this song is what i like to call "primitive." U2's Boy is primitive U2, for example.
  • this is so charmingly simple - lyrically, melodically, and all

"My Love Will Be True" by The Princes of Hollywood
from Direction of Motion

  • i loved this band my freshman yr at OU. i saw them at coffeehouse shows nearly every month
  • i later met one of the "princes," turns out he worked in radio at WOUB and we had one lone conversation on a Sunday afternoon while i DJed
  • the Princes consisted of 2, sometimes 3, members. one was the son of Bruce Dalzell, the leader of all open mic nights in Athens. Bruce was in a band in college called Kings of Hollywood (i think. it was kings of something)
  • do you see a pattern on my shuffle? looks like it's a day of royalty.

"Why Don't the Buildings Cry?" by Youth Group
from Skeleton Jar

  • i found out about this band from The OC. guilty pleasure TV -> better taste in music
  • i really love the sound of the lead singer's voice (Toby Martin), and i can't tell he's Australian. he sounds so unbothered and passionate at the same time

That was my first installment of iPod shuffle. Do you feel like you know me now? Can you judge me? I promise, there was no cheating or skipping songs involved. If I happened across a blog post with these 5 songs and bands, I might think "that girl enjoys mediocre indie rock bands." That might be true.

The Good Life - Album of the Year

These are truly some of my favorite lyrics of all time. Seriously, this song makes me die a little inside every time I hear it. I mean "die" in the most positive way, really. It is the kind of song that crushes your heart and makes you so happy that geniuses like Tim Kasher (lyricist/songwriter/singer/guitarist behind The Good Life) exist and are sharing their art. Oh, this song could play on repeat for months, and I would still find it hopelessly romantic and simultaneously tragic.

The first time that I met her
I was throwing up in the ladies room stall
She asked me if I needed anything
I said, "I think I spilled my drink"
And that's how it started
(Or so I'd like to believe)

She took me to her mother's house
Outside of town where the stars hang down
She said she'd never seen someone so lost
I said I'd never felt so found

And then I kissed her on the cheek
And so she kissed me on the mouth

The spring was popping daises up
Around rusted trucks and busted lawn chairs
We moved into a studio in Council Bluffs
To save a couple bucks
Where the mice came out at night
Neighbors were screaming all the time

We'd make love in the afternoons
To Chelsea Girls and Bachelor #2
I'd play for her some songs I wrote
She'd joke and say I'm shooting through the roof
I'd say, "They're all for you, dear
I'll write the album of the year"

And I know she loved me then
I swear to God she did
It was the way she'd bite my lower lip
And push her hips against my hips
And dig her nails so deep into my skin

The first time that I met her
I was convinced I had finally found the one
She was convinced I was under the influence
Of all those drunken romantics

I was reading Fante at the the time
I had Bukowski on my mind

She got a job at Jacob's
Serving cocktails to the local drunks
Against her will, I fit the the bill
I perched down at the end of the bar
She said, "Space is not just a place for stars
I gave you an inch, you want a house with a yard

And I know she loved me once
But those days are done
She used to call me every day
From a pay phone on her break for lunch
Just to say she can't wait to come home

The last time that I saw her
She was picking through which records were hers
Her clothes were packed in boxes
With some pots and pans and books and a toaster
Just then a mouse scurried across the floor

We started laughing until it didn't hurt

Fruit Bats - The Ruminant Band

Tuck the whole big sun into Wilco’s pocket and swap Jeff Tweedy for Eric D. Johnson. That’s how you get “My Unusual Friend,” the first single on Fruit Bats’ fourth album. Its uptempo keyboard plunking, cheerful pop guitar solos, and simple melody is Wilco’s Summerteeth all over again. The rest of the album stretches away from the mold, though, with harmonies and mellowed-out steel guitar that feel like summer in the ‘70s. Johnson has recorded with the Shins and Vetiver, a San Francisco indie folk band and Sub Pop labelmate. These influences shine through, with the warm feel of Americana and odd whims of pop frenzy peppered throughout the album. Major-key chord structures give The Ruminant Band an easy, breezy vibe. The title track catches you in a strange place – it’s impossible to decide whether to sit back and succumb to the laid-back guitar noodling or get up and move your feet to the syrupy groove. On “Tegucigalpa,” Johnson wails, “I’ll always keep you warm/I’ll always treat you nice.” Easy for him to say; after all, he has the sun in the palm of his hand.

Cursive - Live Review

Tim Kasher’s left lung collapsed in 2002. Not that it’s a secret, but it sure is a shock. The 34-year-old vocalist and lead guitarist of Cursive doesn’t go easy on his lungs (or any part of his body, for that matter) in a live show. His cathartic, gravelly style of singing is the voice of dreams and nightmares, a throbbing pulse of energy that explodes in all directions.

His effect on the crowd was chilling last night. In addition to the quality of his voice, he stunned his loyal audience of hard-ass dudes (and a few girlfriends sprinkled here and there) with thoughtful prose. In “From the Hips,” he transformed the mundane details of everyday life into art. “We're all just trying to play our roles/in a play that runs ad nauseum,” Kasher crooned to a background of clean, hi-hat heavy drums, warm basslines, and rich trumpet playing.

Other set highlights included “The Great Decay,” where the four members of Cursive acted as puppeteers of a crowd that looked like it suffered from group exposure to rabies. Every time the Omaha, Nebraska-based band paused or altered the time signature, the audience moved together in perfect synch with the change. An experimental guitar/drum solo in “Art is Hard” ended with a full-fledged anthemic chorus.

Toward the end of the set, Kasher hoo-oohed up to the next octave, displaying his talent for reaching high notes while avoiding the awkwardness that typically goes along with falsetto singing. As reparation, he juxtaposed the high-pitched chirping with cathartic yelling.

Cursive was focused and on-spot, composed and gripping. Kasher, though, was the captain of the ship. He led the band in the right direction, provided his support, and continued to master his art.

Friday, July 24, 2009

(500) Days of Summer

This soundtrack is pretty darn great.

I'm an especially big fan of the following:
  • "Mushaboom" by Feist (classic, since day one of my Feist listening career)
  • "Sweet Disposition" by The Temper Trap (moments of Justin Vernon-like high-pitched crooning)
  • "You Make My Dreams" by Hall & Oates (I've been dancing around my family room to Hall & Oates since I was 5. This song is tops.)

Other highlights:
  • She & Him cover The Smiths
  • Regina, Regina, Regina Spektor is a goddess
  • Carla Bruni - is that French I hear?
Can't wait to see it tonight! I've been waiting months...

Hi, New Obsession

The second coming of Elliott Smith: Beerjacket.

A strong statement? Yes.
A true statement? Maybe.

I think this is what we call love at first listen. My singer-songwriter fetish continues.

Cass McCombs + The Walkmen Live Review

An album and a few extra bandmates later, Cass McCombs is a changed man. He’s not completely different; his jaded, sullen side still peaks through the darkness in his eyes. Yet last night’s performance was a far cry from the set McCombs’ played when he opened for Jose Gonzalez a year and a half ago. Rather than sneering at the audience, you could almost catch a glimmer of a smile every few songs.

McCombs’ newer material has a sunny side, and a full backing band was better able to express the depth of emotion McCombs’ carries in his vulnerable voice. There were times, though, that I wished the band would evaporate so you could hear his smooth garbling and the sweetly simple song construction.

His music has the retro feel of Brill Building pop, with subtle harmonies and an echoed reverb effect on his vocals. In “You Saved My Life,” McCombs hiccuped into little half-spoken phrases that almost sounded – gasp –Elvis Presley-esque.

The Walkmen upped the ante and the tempo from the minute they stepped onstage. The NYC-based band combines the magnetism of the Strokes with the concentration and intensity of the National. Fan favorite, “The Rat,” is a great example of how the band functions. Frontman Hamilton Leithauser hurtled toward the audience with a pulsing energy that lit up the stage while the rest of the band stunned our ears with a fullness of sound that can only come from immaculate musicianship.

A full horn section (3 trumpets, 1 trombone) accompanied the band’s bass, organ, drums, and guitar mix. Instead of overwhelming, the sound was clean and polished. Not a showy bunch, the Walkmen didn’t clutter the set with stage banter. Leithauser was saving his voice – a raspy-yet-gorgeous wail – for the songs. Excellent decision.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Music I Liked in High School That's Still Good

Definition: I liked you in high school, I graduated college, and I still truly like you now.

  • Metric
  • Elliott Smith
  • Wilco
  • Coldplay
  • Arcade Fire
  • The Strokes
  • The Cardigans
  • Queens of the Stone Age -> Eagles of Death Metal
  • Weezer

Some that didn't make the cut. i.e. I liked you in high school, now I can't listen to you (much if at all).
  • Jason Mraz
  • Dashboard Confessional
  • John Mayer
  • The Killers
  • Modest Mouse
  • Red Hot Chili Peppers
  • Incubus
  • Weezer

Monday, July 20, 2009

Trashcan Sinatras

The Trashcan Sinatras have been together for more than 20 years, and not all of them have been easy. In 1996, the band declared bankruptcy after Universal Records dropped them from its label. Yet, the band re-emerged a few years later seemingly unscathed, still cranking out gentle pop creations with sweet harmonies and gentle grooves. The Scottish six-piece is now touring behind its fifth full-length record, which will be released in the UK and Europe in September and sometime this fall in the US. According to the band, the album, In the Music, is full of songs about all kinds of love. Francis Reader leads the group with a crystal clear voice, while Paul Livingston lets magic trickle through his guitar and the rest of the band rounds out a full chamber pop sound. Lush, beautiful, and relaxing, the show is a prime destination for sweethearts. Since Trashcan Sinatras are known for going years without touring, this might be your last chance to see them play a live show for a while. Brookville (Andy Chase of Ivy) and The Ben Barrs open at 8pm at the Grog Shop (2785 Euclid Heights Blvd., 216.321.5588). Tickets: $10 advance, $12 day of show.

Los Campesinos Writer's Block

I'm working on a feature on my favorite Welsh band, Los Campesinos. I'm at 882 words. I think I need 1,100. Due tomorrow. Must concentrate. I'll post it eventually... along with a podcast interview I did with their drummer, Ollie Campesinos.

Handsome Furs Live Review, Edited Version

So here's the version that actually ran:

It took a couple hours for the Grog Shop to wake up on Friday night. Lakewood’s Saint Ohio opened the show with a brutally dull set, where the overzealous drummer tried to make up for the rest of the band’s mediocrity by dancing around the stage with a tambourine and fastening his glasses to his head like a pair of safety goggles. The Cinnamon Band, up next, was a huge improvement. Still, sweet harmonies and the gentle pop of the Virginia guitar-drum duo still couldn’t shake up the crowd.

All restlessness ended, however, the minute the husband-wife team of the Handsome Furs stepped onstage. Dan Boeckner picked up his guitar, his sleeveless shirt showing off tattoos scattered across his skinny arms, while Alexei Perry kicked her way over to her synthesizer/drum machine table in a tiny romper. The two are straight out of Natural Born Killers, a pair of untamed, horny lovers on a trip around the world.

Continue reading here.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Musical Sex on Stage

How to describe Handsome Furs' live show: see above. Sex on stage pretty much wraps it up.

It was hot, sweaty, completely manic, enticing, erotic, and entirely entrancing. Dan Boeckner (of Wolf Parade) and his wife Alexei Perry are two of the best performers I've seen in years. How do you put on a show for a couple hundred eager fans? Spastically kick the air while blasting synth and drum machines. Hit hard, electric riffs on the guitar, pulsing forward towards your wife, and letting her throw her head forward as she urges you to continue.

It was completely and utterly ridiculous. Sometimes I couldn't stop my face from forming that automatic "what-the-f-is-going-on" expression. My mouth dropped as Perry wriggled around the stage between songs. My grin widened as Boeckner began and punctuated every few words with fuckin'.

"We fuckin' love this fuckin' punk rock basement club here, Cleveland."

"This song is about fucking."

B: "You guys been to Zanesville, Ohio?"
P: "We stopped there for gas on the way. It was fuckin' sketchy. Something was seriously messed up about that place."
B: "Are any of you from Zanesville? If you are, I will personally buy you enough liquor to kill you."
P: grinning, "Dan is from the Zanesville of Canada."
B: "Yeah, I grew up in a fuckin' dump. This song is about growing up in a dump."

Apparently some fans bought the couple several rounds of shots before they went onstage. Perry kept talking about how wasted she was. But I was happy about it. I've never seen anybody have as much fun as those two were having. Boeckner was shredding faces with guitar playing that felt legendary. He made that thing squeal, and it came through so clearly, only to be accompanied by the beat of the drum machine. Perry hopped, skipped, and jumped while managing to hold down the beat and populate the songs with sleazy synths.

The Montreal duo spit on each other, licked each other, and even made out before the last song. It was strange to watch (is this music, or is this softcore porn?), but it made you smile in that knowing way. Like, "oh, to be young, and irresponsible, and living the life of sex, drugs, and rock&roll." I guess I can't call that knowing. I don't think I'll ever really know the rock lifestyle. I digress. They reminded me of every bad decision ever made. The kind of bad decisions that you look at in hindsight and smile about. Because you are glad you made them, happy to say you were reckless and carefree.

Reckless and carefree. Dan and Alexei. May their lust last forever.
Cleveland loves you.

In Love with a (Grizzly) Bear.

Words cannot describe how this video affects me. My heart is a flutter. Pure beauty, and I'm short of breath.

On an unrelated note, Ed Droste sorta looks like Ed the Prick on this season of The Bachelorette. Do not blame me for my weekly two hours of shameless trash TV watching. It is a family ritual.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Just So Ya Know...

I really enjoyed Jenny Eliscu's cover story on the JoBros. And her profile on Regina Spektor. Who am I kidding? Jill was right, she's the best rock writer around.

Note to Rolling Stone: Keep Jenny Eliscu. Keep Peter Travers. Work on everything else.

The Starlight Mints - Change Remains

Let’s be honest: any idiot next door can write Lady Gaga’s “Poker Face.” What takes real spunk and creative force is a hooky pop song that stays fresh after 20 listens. The Starlight Mints exemplifies my favorite new genre: complex pop. Phoenix is making it, Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin thrives on it, and now The Starlight Mints has perfected it. The Oklahoma five-piece takes songs you hear on the radio and adds magic ingredients – psychedelic spacey sound effects, peppered percussion shaking, 70’s bass guitar funk, and whatever feels right at the moment. “Natural” matches crunchy electro-goodness with Nine Inch Nails-esque grittiness and an attitude that’s more playful than the slobbering puppy down the street. Slowly grooving to the tune of Vaudevillian horns, “Zoomba” sounds like a collaboration between Queen and Weezer, complete with falsetto vocal trills. It feels right to drive around, blasting Change Remains with the windows down. Cars around you might be confused at first (“What is this strange, but miraculously catchy music?”), but maybe they’ll turn down the latest Madonna rip-off and hear something worthwhile for once. 

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Handsome Furs

Here's a preview for an upcoming Cleveland show...

Something about husband/wife or girlfriend/boyfriend music collaborations is entrancing. Maybe it’s an unspoken understanding between intimate lovers, the bond of familiarity, or just strange coincidence. However they pull it off, coupled-up music duos are thriving in the indie music scene. Matt & Kim playfully stomp across the country, the married couple behind Mates of State takes pop to a new level, and Handsome Furs’ Dan Boeckner and Alexei Perry tear up stages from Cleveland to Moscow. Named after a short story Perry was writing back in 2006, Handsome Furs sounds similar to Wolf Parade, Boeckner’s other band. While his distinctively imperfect voice still stretches over distorted guitars, Perry’s electronic beats take their Montreal-based duo to a new level. Handsome Furs’ most recent release,Face Control, is more upbeat and less heavy than its 2007 debut, Plague Park. Taking inspiration from recent tours around Eastern Europe, the new material is raw, catchy, and sexy – not unlike the couple’s live shows. They’ll wow you with futuristic, trippy “Legal Tender” and “Talking Hotel Arbat Blues’” anthemic chants. The Cinnamon Band opens the show along with Lakewood’s Saint Ohio at 8 p.m. at the Grog Shop (2785 Euclid Heights Blvd., 216.321.5588). Tickets: $10.

The Dear Hunter and mewithoutYou - Live Review

“The first few times we played in Cleveland, it was Hecklesville, USA,” mewithoutYou’s leading man proclaimed halfway through their set. Six or seven years later, a lot has changed for Aaron Weiss and his bandmates. The Philadelphia-based band played to a sold-out Grog Shop crowd last night. It was the kind of audience where fans barely speak and very rarely turn their heads away from the band.

Prog rockers The Dear Hunter opened the show with dark, moody atmospherics. Casey Crescenzo belted anthemic choruses over a wash of reverb-laden guitar and sparkling keyboards. When the five-piece outfit was at its best, Crescenzo’s songs sounded like Coldplay’s next big hit – melodic, grand, and arena-sized. Yet the band proved that it doesn’t need to hide behind twinkling instruments to widen eyes. All five guys harmonized on “Sun,” a stripped-down tune with guitar noodling and a gentle folk vibe. The Dear Hunter’s songs flowed from one to the next, transitioning well into the night’s main event.

mewithoutYou has a unique way of doing things. The band’s melodies center around Greg Jehanian’s bass guitar and drummer Richard Mazzotta’s distinctive percussion. Both guitar parts are atmospheric, letting rhythm take over as the driving force of the music. The fans know it – “Torches Together” incited wild clapping to Mazzotta’s strange time signatures and heads bobbed in beat with “The Dryness and the Rain.” Weiss sings/yells/speaks/shouts (honestly, his vocals are a clusterfuck of every different style I’ve ever heard) along with the throbbing beat. He lunged across the stage manically, throwing flowers a fan gave him and even breaking out an accordion for a few songs. mewithoutYou is a great departure from the traditional band structure of guitar-driven rock. Cleveland’s gonna have to find someone else to heckle.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Bahh Humbug

Aw, just looked at my top ten most played artists/bands. No females. At all. Sad.

It looks like i have an affinity with male singer-songwriters and folk musicians.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Wilco - Shot in the Arm

Wilco is the kind of band you NEED to see live. 
Under these circumstances:
a) in an intimate/semi-intimate indoor venue
b) while Jeff Tweedy is not severely messed up on drugs
c) two words: Nels Cline

I get emotional, though, just watching the Ashes of American Flags DVD. 

"Shot in the Arm" has some fantastic imagery.

"Your pillow wept
You covered your eyes
And you finally slept
When the sun caught fire"

"We fell in love
in the key of C"

See for yourself.